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Remarks of Associate Administrator Doug Kinkoph at the UTC Broadband Workshop

August 05, 2020

Remarks of Doug Kinkoph
Associate Administrator performing the delegated duties
of the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
National Telecommunications and Information Administration
Utilities Technology Council Broadband Workshop
August 5, 2020

-- As Prepared for Delivery --

Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today.

I hope you are all staying safe and healthy. At NTIA, most of our employees continue to telework, but we have maintained full continuity of our operations across our offices.

NTIA, of course, has long recognized the importance of broadband. The Internet is an engine for innovation and growth and is critical to full participation in the 21st century economy.

But the past five months have really driven home just how essential broadband is to American industry and consumers. A reliable, high-speed Internet connection is key to staying connected to your friends, your family, and your job.

That’s what drives the men and women at NTIA who work on these issues. We know the stakes, and that’s why we work so hard to deliver on our broadband goals.

American Broadband Initiative

This summer, NTIA and our federal partners released a report detailing the progress we’ve made under the American Broadband Initiative. This initiative, which we call ABI, was created to improve coordination between federal agencies, reduce red tape, and eliminate barriers to network buildout.

Our Progress Report included updates on the 60 commitments made by Executive Branch agencies as part of the ABI. I’m proud to say that NTIA was able to deliver on 100% of our commitments.

One of those commitments was to make NTIA’s BroadbandUSA website a one-stop shop for all kinds of information related to broadband. We now have a searchable database of federal funding opportunities, an overview on permitting, and a collection of data about state broadband coordinators, programs, and grant opportunities.

Another one of our commitments was to launch a broadband mapping tool. Last year, we released a pilot version of the map in partnership with an initial eight states. Since that time, our National Broadband Availability Map has seen rapid growth in participation. We are now up to 22 states that are participating in our program.

We have also entered into agreements with two Federal partners, the Economic Development Administration and USDA, so they can use the map to facilitate more informed decision making for their programs.

We’re very excited about the potential of our platform. This is not just a simple snapshot in time. The National Broadband Availability Map is an advanced geographic information system platform, capable of visualizing and analyzing multiple datasets.

Currently, we have integrated over 170 data layers from more than 21 sources, comprising more than two terabytes of data within the platform. We have data from the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Census Bureau, the Universal Service Administrative Company, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

We’ve obtained commercially available data from Ookla and Measurement Lab, and we’ve also added data from most of our state government partners.

We have learned so much from our previous work with states and broadband mapping. What we’re trying to do now is construct the most comprehensive broadband mapping tool possible. We know what decision-makers need to make more well-informed decisions.

Since it does hold proprietary data sets, our platform is not accessible to the public. We are only able to share it with federal and state partners. That is why we’ve worked so quickly to add states to our program; not just for the increased amount of data, but to increase the number of decision makers who can benefit from it.

State Broadband Leaders Network

One of the biggest positives from our first effort at broadband mapping has been our State Broadband Leaders Network. We now have all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories participating in the network.

This is a powerful forum for connecting state and local governments, industry, and stakeholders across the country.

It’s how we’re able to offer so much information on state programs on our website, and we also gather valuable, on-the-ground data about broadband challenges.

This extensive federal-state coordination is especially important with current CARES Act and Department of Education funding available for broadband access through hot-spot purchases, Wi-Fi networks, and fiber deployment.

What is so important about this network is it recognizes that successful broadband expansion happens at the state and local level. These relationships have made the technical assistance program BroadbandUSA manages stronger and more targeted. The TA program is available to all communities who have broadband expansion goals.

Our website is a great resource for connecting with essential state and local broadband stakeholders.

Minority Broadband Initiative

One of NTIA’s key missions is to ensure that the benefits of broadband are available to every American regardless of where they reside. 

NTIA established the Minority Broadband Initiative to help Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs) and Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) promote themselves as key community resources for broadband expansion throughout the rural South and in Indian Country. 

The MBI seeks to increase HBCU leadership participation in relevant broadband organizations and federal agency committees, enhance outreach and participation in federal agency broadband programs, and ensure their inclusion in the broadband deployment stakeholder ecosystems and grant opportunities 

To date, we’ve held a number of events, to better engage the HBCU and TCU communities in the Internet connectivity conversation and have participated in teleconferences with the White House Initiative on HBCUs to connect them with students and university leadership.

These engagements serve as valuable listening sessions for NTIA and the White House.

Importantly, they are opportunities for us to leverage our expertise and allow students to hear from experts around the country who can give them advice on their at-home learning and connectivity needs.

In July we held a webinar to examine the importance of cyberinfrastructure for HBCUs and TCUs. The cyberinfrastructure conversation enables policy makers to think more holistically about the challenges confronting these schools.  Broadband connectivity for students and faculty is one thing, but building workforce skills around new technologies and ensuring dedicated connectivity to national research and development infrastructure is key to ensuring that these schools become thriving centers of expertise for their communities and enable them to compete and contribute regionally and globally.

We encourage your membership to engage with the MBI and these schools.

Internet Use Survey

This summer, we’ve also begun to analyze the latest data from our longstanding Internet Use survey, which is conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau on our behalf.

Through this survey we’re able to poll thousands of American households about their online habits, as well as types of devices that they use, and the barriers to connectivity and meaningful use that they face. The most recent survey was conducted in November 2019.

The data show that nearly 4 out of 5 Americans were using the Internet. They are increasingly using a larger and more varied range of devices. Even as seniors and other demographic groups reported encouraging increases in Internet use, the data show that a persistent digital divide still exists based on income levels, age groups, and race, among other factors.

From the data, we can see that the digital divide continues to shrink, but it still exists, based on income level, age groups, and race, among other factors. It will take a sustained effort from all of us in order to close the gap for good.

Spectrum Activity

I’ll close by talking about core part of the broadband conversation, which is our spectrum activity. This is something I’ve come to appreciate more since I moved into NTIA leadership.

NTIA has been a key player in the Trump Administration's efforts to ensure that the U.S. leads the world in 5G.  5G will be a foundational technological platform for our national economy. 5G applications are going to impact every sector. Our focus has been on working with the Federal Communications Commission to make sure there is sufficient spectrum to enable our national carriers to build robust networks and meet the demand for advanced services.

This includes working with federal agencies to determine if spectrum they use can be made available for commercial use, either through spectrum sharing or relocating federal operations, while ensuring they can continue to deliver on their missions that are important to the American people.

Last month, we delivered a report to Congress summarizing our assessment of a key swath of mid-band spectrum, the 3100-3550 MHz frequency range.

Our report concluded that the 3450-3550 MHz sub-band is a good candidate for potential spectrum sharing, including at the commercial power levels sought by the wireless industry.

We are moving forward aggressively on the work needed to make this spectrum available as soon as feasible.

Late last month, the FCC began to auction licenses in the CBRS service. Bids have already exceeded a billion dollars, and it appears there is intense demand for this mid-band spectrum.

CBRS is a giant leap forward in spectrum sharing technology. This is the first time that spectrum is being shared dynamically between government and commercial users, with real-time decisions being made about interference protection and who can use the band, and where.

This is an exciting, critical achievement in putting more mid-band spectrum to use. It is a culmination of nearly a decade of hard, collaborative work with our partners at the FCC, the Department of Defense, and the private sector.

CBRS is a launching pad for innovative commercial uses. An interesting component of this is the expanded range of entities already using or planning to utilize CBRS spectrum, from new competitive communications service providers, to enterprises of all sizes, to, of course, companies in the utility sector who already use spectrum in a variety of ways. We are eager to see how the CBRS spectrum is put into action.

Conclusion

This has been a humbling and difficult summer for so many, as you know. But even as our response to this pandemic reveals new contours to the digital divide, we feel more prepared than ever to take on this challenge.

I am very proud of all of the NTIA staff who have kept our agency not just running during this time but delivering results. I know they are very grateful to all the participants in this workshop for your guidance and participation in all of our activities.

I look forward to continuing our productive partnership.

Thank you.